Stella and Geoff Collins

Stella and Geoff Collins

I was born in Huntingdonshire.  My father was a Welshman who at the time was serving in the RAF, and my mother was from Lincolnshire.  My father had been one of 13 children and had experienced a very difficult and tough upbringing.  He left home at 15 and joined the RAF, a male-dominated environment where physical and verbal abuse was the norm and the culture one of male superiority, racism and foul language. My mother was one of five children and had a rural upbringing which was poor, strict and hard working; she was conditioned to be subservient and obedient to the views of men as was the culture at that time.

My parents already had three boys when, nine years later, I arrived.  So I was the baby girl with elder brothers of 9, 12 and 15.  Our family was struggling to develop and grow.  Its values were those that my parents learnt, and in many ways we perpetuated those unhelpful attitudes and behaviour both within and outside our family.  The eldest son, Mervyn Chivers, had already left home when I was born and carved out a different life.  Having excelled at school, he went on to become a school teacher and choosing his own path emigrated to New Zealand when I was six years old. He was the only one who valued me and treated me with respect; I remember feeling so sad that he was leaving.

Being the only girl gave my brothers and father the opportunity to demonstrate their ‘male superiority’ through verbal, emotional, psychological and physical abuse.  My mother was unable to intervene as she didn’t know how to stand up for what was right, and had been conditioned from an early age not to question her husband.  Thus, the relentless bullying continued and even escalated as I got older.

From the age of four I remember being treated appallingly by my family, never knowing what was in store for me from hour to hour throughout each day.  I struggled, not understanding why I was being ‘punished’ by my whole family when it seemed my peers at school didn’t have to put up with the extremes that I was enduring.  When I was 10 years old everything became worse, as my two brothers who had been in the Navy and only visited home sporadically, both returned home.  The following years were the darkest time of my life, being completely powerless to change the way my parents and older family members treated me.  They had no moral values or spiritual guidance to shape their thinking and behaviour.

Coincidentally, at that same time, on the opposite side of the planet in New Zealand, my eldest brother met with the Bahá’í Faith and declared his love for Baha’u’llah.  This was truly a bounty for our whole family, and especially for me.  He sent me over two books about the Faith.  These two little books, which I still have, changed the course of my life.  For in the darkest years of my life I had access to words filled with light and warmth and a way of life was shown to me that was literally a balm to my soul.  I had no idea why I continually read these books, and had a hidden thirst for them, but I did.  It wasn’t so much a search for knowledge but more a comfort for my heart and soul.  I had found a Heavenly Father who offered me solace and love and guidance.  Consequently, with the grace and bounty of God, I managed to endure the trials of my childhood and adolescent years spiritually intact and emotionally strong.

I had the opportunity to leave home at 17 with a full time job and accommodation. My mother was not happy with this and thought I had abandoned her. She hardly spoke to me for three years, making me feel guilty and bad.  At 21, I was courageous enough to quit my career and visit my brother and his wife in New Zealand for four months.  There I was immersed in a Bahá’í household and within a Bahá’í community, and very soon I was teaching and sharing the Faith with others even though I had not yet declared as a Bahá’í.  Of course I was a Bahá’í.  I had been in love with the writings of Baha’u’llah for many years.  However, I wanted to return home and investigate the truth independently for myself as an adult.

Upon my return to the UK, my previous employer contacted me to offer me a job which was truly amazing, and I accepted. So I was able to support myself.  I quickly made contact with the local Bahá’ís in Gillingham, Kent and two lovely souls in Maidstone, Kathy and Stanley Baker.  It was truly a time for learning and being welcomed into a ‘family’ of souls who were kind and really cared for each other.  It was like coming home.  I still feel like that when I am with Bahá’í friends now; a sometimes overwhelming sense of belonging, and a deep love that is pure and full of light.

Since declaring I have been privileged to have been elected to serve on three Local Spiritual Assemblies – in Bromley, Bexleyheath and Tonbridge. I also have had the wonderful privilege and bounty of two 9 day Pilgrimages, one in 1988 and the other in 2010.  Now I am living in a small community and have, for a number of years, been active in serving the Faith as the Cluster Institute Coordinator for Study Circles in Kent and also as an Assistant to the Auxiliary Board. I have also initiated and facilitated two Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Programs, been a facilitator of Ruhi Books, and taken part in numerous outreach projects across the Kent Cluster.  These areas of service have all broadened my knowledge and given me opportunities to grow and transform, alongside prayer, obedience, studying the messages from the Universal House of Justice and a commitment to actively serve the local community.

In September 1988 I was married to Eric and we were blessed with two beautiful children, Kathryn and Adam. What a journey to be a parent, such a joy, and such a responsibility! In May 2011, after 22 years, sadly our marriage ended. Kathryn lives in London, so Adam and I moved in with friends until the divorce was settled.

Two days after we separated and left the marital home, I suffered a spontaneous sub-arachnoid brain haemorrhage and two strokes during the operation to stop the bleeding.  Both consultants at Kings College Hospital, London were mystified not only at my unexpected survival, but also my initial rapid recovery which they described as miraculous. The power of prayer is truly amazing!  At times I felt I was glowing in the hospital bed, and afterwards when I was told how many people had been praying for me I realised that the ‘warm glowing feeling’ I had experienced must have been due to the prayers that were being said for me from beloved friends all across the world. It certainly had an effect on the hospital staff who were asking me questions about the photograph of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá on my bedside locker, and consulted me on various difficulties they were experiencing in their lives. I was happy to have the gift of being able to support others and to actively teach during the Kent Cluster Intensive Program of Growth from my hospital bed. How truly blessed I have been.

I am still in very slow recovery from this episode and unfortunately, due to debilitating fatigue, it effectively stopped all my Baha’i activities in the local and wider community. It is only now that I am starting to feel that I have the physical energy and strength to reach out and begin again systematic teaching in my locality. This physical life has been a series of tests and difficulties, of trials and tribulations. However, the real essence of me, my spiritual being has not been adversely affected, and through suffering it has been strengthened.

In June 2012 I met a wonderful Baha’i, Geoff Collins, who has shown me how to live without fear in a relationship, who loves me and accepts me for who I am, and who has been patient when I have struggled. He has supported my efforts to return to full time work, has restored confidence and trust in myself, and helped me be patient with myself during my continuing healing process. In turn I love, respect and support him. We have enjoyed developing projects and working as a teaching team, and have planned a training day together for his local community. We married on 12th October 2013, surrounded by the love of our families and friends. We both feel blessed knowing we can teach the Faith as a couple, supporting and encouraging each other, an eternal teaching team.

As you may have gleaned from my journey towards the light of Bahá’u’lláh, I am not an academic or intellectual believer.  I am a simple soul who believes that the healing words of Baha’u’llah have protected and sustained me spiritually all my life.  I am thankful for His words of support and His guidance. He couldn’t stop what others did to me but He gave me the strength to endure and the resilience to overcome and, most importantly, a capacity to recognise others’ pain and the ability to support them with sincere and true love.

________________

Stella Collins

Tonbridge, January 2014

Geoff and Stella in the snow, Winter 2012-13

Geoff and Stella in the snow, Winter 2012-13

Advertisements